We've all experienced the stress of difficult conversations; we've angst over when would be the best time to have them ... and in reality we know we're just using timing as an excuse to avoid them completely.
So you need to address that behaviour that's causing everyone to walk on eggshells but you stop yourself because you don't really know how to bring it up and anyway that person's work, in general, is ok ... so perhaps you shouldn't "rock the boat".
You've got that employee that whenever you have a conversation about performance, they really don't participate in the conversation at all, and then they take stress leave the following day!
You have been asked to carry out performance reviews with your team and you're scrambling to think of what to bring up as you try to remember the last time you had these uncomfortable sessions. You're asking yourself if anything positive at all came from the last one and why you have to bother with it at all. You know as much as anyone else that everyone feels awkward about this whole difficult process.
Any of this sound familiar?
Most people don't like confrontation; that feeling when your heart starts to race and you either immediately start sounding aggressive to hide your nervousness, or you soften your voice, expecting the backlash or at least the push back that's about to come. You try desperately to tread the thin line between being confrontational or submissive, attempting to get your message across.
But what if there was a better way? What if you could have a conversation about anything that did not trigger negative emotions? Well you can.
It's really about understanding effective questioning. We're all human beings and as such, we don't like to be told what to do. So rather than making statements that people can push against, have your conversation based on questions that will deliver the outcome that you're wanting, and leave the responsibility with the person who is ultimately responsible for their own behaviour and/or actions.
We're all too eager as managers to answer our own questions: You ask a question; let's say "How are we going to decrease errors?", we then receive about 1.5 seconds of awkward silence and then we start to say "because I was thinking we could ... ..."!
When we do this we just get nodding and agreeing and the ownership of the action remains in our court instead of where it should be!
We need to first get comfortable with the silence and wait for a response. When one starts responding, others will follow.
Using effective questioning processes doesn't come naturally to most because we've not been taught it, however once learned, it can be used effectively, not just in the workplace, but everywhere. We've seen, and used, this process on many occasions and have realised its effectiveness in getting people to willingly "Step In, Step Up, or Step Out".
Many of us are living through workplace revolution. Technology is marching through, and in so doing is shifting the culture in many workplaces. The change is big.
Data was once considered boring, and the people who worked deep within it were commonly perceived to be socially clumsy or maybe even suffering from some form of social anxiety.
That worm has certainly turned. People now perceive data as like gold. It has taken on a special value in the world of Google, Facebook, and Amazon. People who work the deepest with data are now considered a form of genius, super intelligent, and perhaps even socially revered.
Data has become sexy. Organisations now go out of their way to collect data and analyse patterns within it. The most valuable data is that which can be used to predict human behaviour.
It's not new for people to be able to analyse our patterns and then try to manipulate our behaviour. Now though, data collection for the use of manipulating our behaviour is being done on an industrial scale. Some employers are even monitoring employees both covertly and openly to find the data that they can use to manipulate their levels of motivation, or their levels of compliance. Often this is done as an HR initiative.
We weep. This is just another iteration of a command and control approach to managing people. This time however, it comes with a more complex moral hazard.
We have heard of one HR technology that collects employee information and then makes it available to providers such as banks, insurers, and health funds. Employers receive kickbacks and incentives when employees purchase through the software partner program.
Of course there is the issue of privacy. Just because you sign an employment contract, does that give an employer the right to use personal data? It can seem such minor things such as your concentration levels at certain times, or your writing style and preference for certain language, or your preference for using certain applications more frequently than others. All of these can become part of your "data footprint" at work, that can be used to manipulate your behaviour or motivation.
In many of the technologies, motivation and engagement are used interchangeably. They are different. Short term motivation does not ensure deep and lasting engagement. Similarly, a deeply engaged person can suffer from lapses of motivation from time to time.
There is a deeper concern about using technology to try and drive engagement. Our concern is the quality of our interactions at work. Artificial intelligence is just that - artificial. We know that humans are not always rational and logical. Humans are often at their best when they are irrationally determined and illogically committed to their work. Our sporting heroes so often show us this.
The highest quality interactions we have as people are not based on data, they are based on emotion. Our deepest connections are with other people, based on recognition of shared humanity.
The best technology for engaging with humans, is another human; especially another who is willing to show their concern for our well-being, give their protection in difficult times, and commit their energy to building something meaningful and worthwhile for the benefit of others.
The best leaders have a reason to engage and are willing to have an ongoing conversation with their people about motivation and the barriers to attaining it. They value the interaction. They value the person with whom they are interacting.
Data has a place in every workplace, but the manipulation of people to exploit them is not that place. People are far too valuable, and the skill of leadership is far too important.
Employee engagement is actually about the quality of the conversations, the strength of the relationships, and the degree of trust that is established in the workplace. If data contributes to this, then it should be embraced. If not, then it is just disrupting, and ultimately undervaluing the value of human contribution.
Weak managers will rely on data, but it will never generate sustained commitment, inspire contribution, or build resilience and perseverance.
Being a boss is all about leading people. People can be frustrating. Just ask any small business owner, and they will tell you that managing people is the hardest part of running a business.
There's a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand we know that business owners and managers are frustrated. On the other hand we know very few employees who go to work every day to deliberately be disruptive or do a bad job.
Wait a minute. Isn't that what HR systems and processes are supposed to address?
Typically, HR systems focus on contracts, assessment, and record keeping. These systems are designed to address the fear of employers of incurring penalties for non-compliance. They are not specifically designed to create employee engagement or to inspire contribution. We've written before about how HR typically looks like a purchasing process, rather than an engagement process.
There is little in that process, or the HR systems that have brought that process online, that help you actually manage the human aspects of the employer/employee relationship. That requires something beyond contract management, job descriptions, and performance assessment.
Most of the typical HR processes were made for a bygone era; when employment arrangements were less flexible, people were less transient between jobs, the world was less connected, and the typical approach to business management was based on the need to command and control.
Command and control management is now frowned upon. People have greater need for workplace flexibility, and employees have more choices on where they work, and have greater expectations of the autonomy they should be given at work. Yet the systems are still designed to enable command and control. This is why employers get frustrated.
The system is not helping you to be a better boss. The system is still pulling you back into that outdated management model.
So we wanted to create a system that actually helped manage in a modern context. We thought about the things that actually drive a person's ability to their best, no matter their role or skill level. We identified the need to create a 'culture hub' that would be a single place where everything they needed would be in one place that they could access from anywhere at any time.
THE 7 CRITICAL AREAS
Babies laugh about 400 times a day. By the time we are 35 we laugh about 5 times a day. If you're searching for the secret to eternal youth, maybe that's it! More than just being youthful though, laughing is actually great for business.
Advertisers have known this for years. Laughing is contagious. How many advertisements for a product or service have you seen with people grumpy about their experience? When we see somebody experiencing the joy of using a product or experience, then of course we want to experience that too.
In work places, the research about laughing is really compelling. One study found that a group who watched a comedy clip were 10% more productive than a group who didn't watch it. Yet one of the more frequent fears expressed by managers about having fun at work is that the team will waste time "messing around".
If you had to invest in a business system to gain a 10% productivity gain, how much would that cost?
Jokes are cheap, and as a manager the best joke is you. Yes, you read that right. When you and your team can laugh at your mistakes and bad habits you send a powerful message.
We all have moments when we don't show our most intelligent aspects. Laugh at them. Share the joke with your team. Let them laugh with you. Let them learn - not only what not to do, but how to move on from it. Harvard Medical School Professor Carl Marci noted that "laughter is a social signal amongst humans. It's like a punctuation mark."
Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself, it signals that everything is OK. It allows your team to see you as a person - and that makes it a whole lot easier for those times when you need to signal that everything is not OK.
Laughter is especially important because it sends signals about your values. When we can laugh at ourselves it is usually because we have done something that is against who we would like to be.
"You wouldn't believe the stupid thing I just did" is actually telling people that you aren't stupid after all, and that you really care about it.
We know that in the most productive organisations a clarity of purpose and values is well established. We know the power of communicating your purpose and values in creating engagement, contribution, and teamwork.
Not everything will go to plan. Sometimes things will go wrong. With hindsight, they'll probably be funny. Laugh at them. It will probably not only be profitable, it will probably make you younger.
Happy new year. We hope your 2019 is full of fun and laughter.
H Agents write about the joys and challenges of entrepreneurship and managing people.